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A district court dismissed workplace safety claims filed by a group of Amazon.com Inc. workers after holding that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, not the courts, was the appropriate venue for addressing the workers’ COVID-19-related safety concerns.
In Derrick Palmer, et al., v. Amazon.com Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York held applied the doctrine of primary jurisdiction in determining that only OSHA had the “expertise and discretion” to address the Staten Island fulfillment workers’ safety concerns.
Amazon’s Staten Island center, known as JFK8, operates 24 hours a day, seven day a week and employs thousands of workers. The workers in the lawsuit, including a warehouse associate, a problem solver, a processes assistant and a robotics team member — along with some of their family members — claimed that JFK8 failed to comply with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and argued that Amazon’s productivity requirements prevent employees from engaging in basic hygiene, sanitation and social distancing. Their complaint charged Amazon with public nuisance, breach of duty to provide a safe workplace and failure to timely pay COVID-19 leave, and that the company failed to comply with state and federal public health guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amazon moved to dismiss the case.
The district court dismissed the workers’ claims, applying the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, finding that the question of Amazon’s compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines should be left up to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The court held that workers’ claims and proposed injunctive relief “go to the heart of OSHA’s expertise and discretion” and that trying these cases in the courts would create an “inconsistent patchwork” or rules rather than an OSHA-created “uniform, standard approach” to workplace safety policies to combat the pandemic.
More insurance and workers compensation news on the coronavirus crisis here.
A worker who said she injured her fingers just hours into her first day of work and then sued for negligence is barred by the exclusive remedy of the Louisiana Workers Compensation Act from pursuing her claims.